CAC holds a powerful online meeting for the freedom of artist Nathasha and to defeat the repression of art and expression

Our Correspondent 

An online meeting organized by the Colombo Action Committee (CAC) was held on June 17 (Saturday), demanding the release of all the political prisoners including comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya.

Going beyond the nature of a protest meeting, the meeting examined in depth the background facts of the state’s attack on the freedom of expression and art, including these arrests, its political implications, and the way forward in dealing with it.

Twenty-two to twenty-seven people participated in the live meeting, and most of them stayed towards the end of it, which lasted till around 11 pm.

Comrade Parakrama Kuruppu who chaired the meeting delivered the opening speech, briefly explaining the purpose of the meeting and the background of the arrest of Natasha Edrisooriya. Parakrama gave a brief explanation about the social issues that have been presented in the artist’s performance. He pointed out that portraying her work as an insult to Buddhism is a distortion. Whilst the repression has been unleashed against artists, against those who express independent opinions and against the journalists reporting the truth, those who are responsible for crimes against humanity, such as the brutal war crimes of imperialism, the 1983 massacre and the 2019 Easter attack in Sri Lanka etc. are allowed to be free and remain unpunished. Pointing out that a ruling class, sitting at the top of a society weighed down by the danger of nuclear war and acute social inequality, cannot tolerate truth and free ideas, he emphasized the need for a world-scale uncompromising unity of the working and oppressed masses to fight against this repression.

CAC President Comrade Sanjaya Jayasekara addressing the meeting as the next speaker stated that taking a stand against the arrest of Nathasha Edirisooriya will be the acid test of the integrity of anyone or any organization that claims to stand for human freedom and democratic rights. Ranil Wickremesinghe government, which is implementing severe austerity measures, has called the army into the streets to quell all resistance against it. New laws are being introduced to suppress public protests and to curb free speech.

Comrade Sanjay Jayasekara, President of CAC

Quoting Prof. Wasantha Athukorala of the University of Peradeniya, Sanjaya exposed the fraudulent and false pretense that Sri Lanka’s economy is recovering and explained that Sri Lanka’s economy is hanging on by the thread of non-repayment of loans. The amount thus saved exactly matches  the amount spent on importing fuel including gas, milk powder, and only a part of the medical supplies required for the same period. Sri Lanka’s economy is descending from crisis to crisis.

“According to Professor Athukorala, this so-called economic revival, even in 2028, will bring the economy back to the state it was in 2018. Yet, the economy of the masses will not restore to the level it was in 2018. The burden of Inflation, tax and loan interest increases will be put directly on their backs. It proves that the talks of Sri Lanka becoming a developed country by 2048 is a lie,” Comrade Sanjaya added.

“In these circumstances, the government is working to prepare the fascist forces. These forces are developed against the working class and mass struggles. A large number of such groups exist everywhere in the society today, but they have no basis among the masses. Because of this, the government is consciously intervening to nurture them and pave the way for them. The arrest of Nathasha embodies setting the stage for such groups to appear in the limelight”

“Therefore, we must protect her; not only for protecting freedom of speech. But also, it is necessary to do so in a basic political sense.”

Instead of the false approach of considering the Sri Lankan crisis as a nation specific problem, he insisted that it should be taken as part of an international phenomenon, and with the due consideration of the class nature of the problem. That would be the correct approach. He further said:

“If the war (US and NATO war against Russia) continues for another 5-10 years, it is shown that Europe, including Germany, will be facing the risk of ‘deindustrialization’. The limited markets of economies like Sri Lanka have been mainly in Europe and America. The collapse of industries in those countries directly affects the destruction of these export economies. This makes it very clear that it is not the restoration of the economy that lies behind the attacks on people’s rights through law, but the obvious requirement to suppress the people in the face of its destruction.

“In the face of the challenges that we have been confronted with, the program that we are basically presenting is based on creating independent democratic organizations of the working class, independent of trade unions and pseudo left organizations. It is this program that the Colombo Action Committee is fighting for. We should especially learn the lessons of the betrayal of last year’s struggles, and work to build these independent organizations, and to mobilize the network of independent organizations on an international scale. The International Committee of the Fourth International has already announced this program. Except for by organizing this way, there is no chance of winning the class struggles with the old forms of fighting.”

At the end of the analysis over a variety of aspects of the problem, which took about an hour, the participants got an opportunity to ask questions. Saman Gunadasa, the Assistant Secretary of the Socialist Equality Party of Sri Lanka (SEP), seized the opportunity, and declared that, Sanjaya, who has been expelled from the SEP on charges of ‘violation of discipline’, calling the workers to join the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees is a ‘fraudulent’ act.  In response, Sanjaya pointed out that raising this matter without any connection to the objective political realities discussed at length, and the subject matter of the meeting, is an attempt to divert and disrupt the meeting. (At a later stage too, Gunadasa continued the shameless attempt to divert the meeting in the same way. A separate article  deals with the political analysis of this attempt.)

Comrade Nandana Nannetti, a member of the committee and a former central committee member of the SEP, addressed the meeting next, and said, “although the capitalist class is promoting religion and dividing the people now, when the capitalist revolution was on the rise, those revolutions fought against all feudal restrictions, including religious bondage.”

Nandana further explained:

Comrade Nandana Nannetti

“However, the capitalist classes of the capitalist states that came to be in the latter stages have never gone through the experience of uniting an entire nation through ethnic, and religious lines, being afraid of the oppressed classes from their inception, and have acted from the beginning by stirring up ethnic, religious and caste differences to divide and rule them.

“Today’s world capitalism is facing its ultimate problem of world war or revolution. Faced with the situation of being unable to give anything to the people of their own countries, the concerns of the imperialist countries are now directed towards the redistribution of the world.

“People express their sensitiveness to this crisis in different ways through various disciplines. We must understand that the consciousness expressed in these must be clarified through examination of the contradictions of the objective lives of men and women. That is, it can be done through an analysis of the conflict between production, productive forces and social relations. According to Marx, the production relations transform from a state of supporting to the forces of production, into an obstruction that hinders it, and then, a period of social revolution begins. This is exactly the fact that everyone is undermining.

“Regardless of Nathasha’s social consciousness, her class and her surroundings, her artistic expression rises up in a rebellious way against the existing system. So-called leftists and radicals are hanging on to what they describe as her personal social views. Two things have emerged that are very sensitive to the ruling class. Firstly, the ruling class is being challenged for its very existence as the ruling class, and it is very weak. Then, they felt that the question of freedom raised by Nathasha’s performance was growing into a social need that scared them. It is exactly what the government and its dependents in the religious establishment and others are scared of. 

“The question that has arisen about this work of art is a class question. Completely forgetting this fact and taking the problems superficially, hinders the identification and resolution of the problem. It is not Nathasha who is imprisoned now. Nathasha is just a figurative expression. Imprisoned are the freedom of art, freedom of speech, the freedom of people to march for their own liberation, the freedom of oppressed people to express themselves and organize. I appeal to all comrades who are attending and listening to this meeting, especially the working class, to fight for freedom of art and expression against all those who try to trivialize the struggle for it, and suggest other substitutes for it. On behalf of the Colombo Action Committee, I affirm with responsibility that we fully subordinate to the program of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). That’s how our organization was built. That is how it moves forward. We hold all our discussions based on those principles,” Comrade Nandana Nannetti said. 

Comrade Shantha Wijesuriya, the secretary of the CAC, who delivered the final speech, examined the incident by relating it to the experience of last year’s mass struggles : “In that struggle, we saw how people came forward to express their free opinions, exploding the pressures on them. It was the inspiration of the experiences of this struggle that provided the impetus for this influx of free ideas”, he stated.

Comrade Shantha Wijesuriya, Secretary of Colombo Action Committee

Recalling how the struggle of the previous year unfolded, Comrade Shantha explained how the social problems affected a wide cross-section of the society and the people could not live their old lives any longer. Thus, groups belonging to various classes were active in that struggle. The main reason for the defeat of this popular uprising was the lack of revolutionary leadership.

Criticizing the way the leadership of the SEP Sri Lanka reacted when they were invited for a Gotagogama speech, Comrade Shantha stated that the SEP had requested an invitation addressed to the party: there was no official organization that could issue such a written invitation, and the party leadership has exposed its own attitude to position itself alien to the mass struggles. He expressed his astonishment at the information of disciplinary charges being levelled against Comrade Sanjaya for responding to this invitation.

The power displayed in this struggle was immense. It managed to occupy the most critical centers of the country – the Presidential Palace, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office. What was lacking was not the strength, but the organization and the leadership.

Criticizing the views expressed by the leaders of the Frontline Socialist Party and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna regarding the arrest of Nathasha, he said that the stand taken for her freedom and the people who take such a stand are historic.

[Featured image depicts part of a CAC demonstration to demand release of comedian Nathasha, held on June 7, 2023 in Colombo]

[This article was originally published in Sinhalese here on June 23, 2023]

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